Israel’s ‘fantasy island’ off Gaza’s coast

April 16, 2011 | Maan | Suhail Khalilieh

Israel’s Channel 2 has revealed an Israeli government plan to set up an artificial “man-made” island off the coast of the Gaza Strip, to be under the control of the Palestinian Authority.

The plan, as reported, was formulated and schemed by the Israeli Minster of Transportation Yaakov Katz, guided and godfathered by Israeli Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu. Apparently, the idea has been formulated and detailed by a team of experts for quite some time — three months according to the report.

The island is planned to sit some 4.5 kilometers from Gaza’s shores, and to include Palestinian-operated sea and air ports, tourist accommodation areas, and a desalination plant. The dimensions of the island are drawn at four by two kilometers linked to mainland Gaza by a 4.5 kilometer bridge.

The projected budget for the Island project runs between $5-10 billion and will take somewhere between six and 10 years to execute.

The project, which is yet to receive final approval from Netanyahu, has wide support across the Israeli spectrum. Israeli President Shimon Peres alleged that the island would allow Israel to permanently secede from Gaza with no obligations to commercial trading whatsoever, while maintaining a coastal siege for security purposes including arm smuggling into Gaza. Furthermore, the island and the bridge to mainland Gaza will be subject to designated international supervision.

The news of the island was leaked at the same time Israel methodically redrew the limits of Gaza’s fishing zone, which has decreased from 20 nautical miles as agreed in the Oslo Accords in 1994 to three nautical miles. Since January 2009, Israeli naval warships have enforced the limit.

The planned location of the island would fall just outside the Israeli enforced limits.

The Israelis seem so confident that this Island project will receive approval and an international commitment that Israeli Minster of Transportation Yaakov Katz divulged that he wants an international force to control the island for “at least 100 years.”

Katz’s delusions takes him even further, promoting the island with optimism that Europe, the United States and private entrepreneurs will be willing to be part of this pitfall.

However, in his ignorance of history Katz fails to realize that nations will fall and new nations will rise, and nowadays even Israel can not foresee that far ahead in time.

Hamas — a major player in the Gaza Strip and the party who calls the shots there at this time — referred to Israel’s plan as an effort to “internationalize” the Gaza blockade. It is really naïve of Israel to imagine that it can pull this off without Hamas agreeing to it — even more, to be on Hamas’ terms.

So, what does Israel really want from this Island? The answer is quite obvious: to boost Israel’s control of the Gaza Strip.

Israel plans to permanently close all of Gaza’s border crossings with Israel and to restrict everything and everyone that moves in or out of Gaza from the planned island. The Island will be under Palestinian Authority control but security wise it will remain controlled and monitored by the Israeli occupation’s navy and the designated international force.

Naturally, the Island would be a demilitarized zone for Palestinians and intended to secure the people of Gaza an opening to provide means of life and exit from what literally would become the largest prison on earth.

The other purpose the island would serve is that it would act to neutralize Hamas — putting it out of the widely debatable peace equation.

Naturally, the spur of this plan is that it deepen the Palestinian insularity — maybe to the point of no return.

The island concept is endorsed by Israeli state officials who assume that the Island will end the complexity of Gaza’s situation on land and in sea once and for all. This says a lot about what a rough time Israel is still having handling the Gaza Strip, almost six years after the so-called disengagement charade in 2005. But more than that it says how delusional the Israeli government is to pursue such a plan.

It also appears that Netanyahu wants to take a leading initiative in the absence of any plan to resolve the Gaza issue for Israel on permanent basis — on one hand neutralizing Gaza and on the other hand forcing Israel’s perception of territorial exchange — the land-swap concept.

So, does Israel really think that it could keep Gaza under siege forever? If Israel wants to get out of Gaza it doesn’t need an island: it should simply leave.

Today, and contrary to what is claimed by Israel regarding its disengagement from Gaza, the facts on the ground show that Israel is still in effective control of at least 20 percent of the Gaza Strip along the northern and eastern borders.

Building an island will not help Israel to leave Gaza if it puts a checkpoint on the bridge.

It is as contradictory and oafish as the rocket-proof dome that received $205 million of American taxpayers’ money supposedly to stop home-made Palestinian rockets. The project is such a waste it could pass as a money-laundering arms deal — that is how ridiculous the rocket-proof dome is when Israel could just have left Gaza.

Suhail Khalilieh heads the Settlements Monitoring Department at the Applied Research Institute in Jerusalem

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